This is always a fun conversation that I like to have with my friends and colleagues. Is Tom Brady overrated? Is Tom Brady the greatest quarterback of all-time? If you’re from New England then the answer to the latter question is undoubtably yes.
But what if Mr. Brady was drafted by, say, Cincinnati or Dallas, would he have had the same career thus far? Now obviously, everything is relative and you can make the same argument for pretty much any quarterback or any player for that matter.
However, Brady is one of the few modern day quarterbacks that has had the same head coach and the same system for the entirety of his career. This system has proven itself, for every position, to be the ultimate plug-and-play system. It requires intelligent players that are committed to doing their job within the formula.
Now, Brady has perfected this system and can pick apart defenses at the line of scrimmage and is an extremely accurate passer, thus putting him in the conversation for greatest of all time. But in the very brief stint of time that he has missed, we have watched other quarterbacks have great success within the system.
In 2007, the Patriots went 16-0 and Tom Brady had the best year of his career throwing for 4,806 and 50 touchdowns (his only season throwing over 40 touchdowns). In 2008, he only threw 11 passes before he was lost for the season due to injury. In steps Matt Cassel.
First, let’s look at a little background of Matt Cassel. He was drafted in the 7th round of the 2005 NFL draft by the New England Patriots. He suited up for the USC Trojans during his collegiate career but never started a game. In his career at SC, he completed 20 passes for 192 yards and a pick. Now how in the hell does a guy that completes 20 passes during his entire 4-year college career get drafted into the National Football League? My only guess is that Belichick saw a player that had the same body type and arm strength as Brady, and could be plugged in if needed.
Now flash forward to 2008 and Cassel is starting in his first football game since playing HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL. What does the guy do? Just throws for 3,693 yards, with 21 touchdowns and a 63.4% completion percentage. He also leads the Patriots to an 11-5 regular season record. He was traded the following year to the Kansas City Chiefs and has never thrown for more yards or had a higher completion percentage than in 2008.
Brady returns in 2009, has slightly higher numbers (4,398/28/65.7%), leads the Patriots to a 10-6 record, and another playoff berth.
To put this whole scenario into context I will make a comparison to Peyton Manning since everyone loves to compare the two. In 2010, the Indianapolis Colts went 10-6 and won the AFC South division. Manning threw for 4,700 yards and 33 touchdowns with a 66.3% completion percentage. The next season, Manning missed the entire year due to neck surgery.
With Curtis Painter, and veteran Kerry Collins at the helm, the Colts went 2-14, missing the playoffs for the first time in 9 years. That same year the Denver Broncos went 8-8 with Tim Tebow as the starting quarterback. The Broncos acquired Manning in the offseason, and with virtually the same roster from the year before, went 13-3 for the best record in the NFL.
I bring up all of the jargon and here say, just to prove the point that a quarterback can have a huge impact on a system, and a system can have a huge impact on a quarterback.
Let’s move forward to real time. Brady is suspended for the first 4 games of the season. In steps Jimmy Garoppolo. What does he do in his first game as a starter? Throws for 264 yards and a touchdown with a 72.7% completion percentage. And oh yeah, the game was IN Arizona, against arguably the most talented roster in the NFL. Week 2 garnered even better results. 234 yards, 3 touchdowns, and a 66.7% completion percentage all in the first half. Shortly into the 2nd half, Jimmy G was sent to the locker room with a shoulder injury.
Enter Jacoby Brissett. A rookie quarterback who was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He enters his first NFL game and throws for 92 yards, a 66.7% completion percentage, and zero interceptions. The Patriots, yet again, won this game.
All I’m trying to say, through this long soliloquy of statistical hoopla, is that if you are going to call Belichick a genius, and that the Patriots system is one that derives from plug-and-play ideology, then you have to include the likes of Tom Brady in the conversation.
For me personally, if the Patriots went 4-12 in 2008, and went 0-4 during his suspension in 2016, then I would gladly step off of my soapbox, grab my chisel, and begin chiseling Brady’s face on the Mt. Rushmore of NFL Quarterbacks. To me, that would cement his greatness and the value that he brings to the offense.
But what we are watching is a coach that has created a system that is extremely quarterback friendly. A system that protects a quarterback from making bad decisions and inaccurate throws. A system where out routes, dig routes, and tight end seam routes reign supreme.
Tom Brady will no doubt be enshrined in Canton, and will go down as the greatest Patriot of all time, but next time you watch a Patriots game, watch the offense. Watch the play calling. Watch Jacoby Brissett play smart and lead his team when he needs to. Watch players that couldn’t hack it on other NFL teams but thrive for Belichick (i.e. LeGarrette Blount). The Hoodie has created a superpower in New England that will compete for championships every year that he remains there, no matter who takes the snaps under center.